Property Line and Fence Laws in New York

While many New Yorkers don't have the luxury of wondering where their property lines are and whether their yard is enclosed by a fence that complies with state law, others do come up against these issues. In fact, fences and other boundary concerns are a common cause of neighbor disputes which can become very contentious. And although many of the applicable laws are actually governed by individual cities and neighborhood associations, there are some statewide rules you should know about. Read on to learn about property line and fence laws in New York.

Property Line and Fence Laws in New York: An Overview

A common question among homeowners is whether or not they and their neighbor are equally responsible for the construction and maintenance of a fence that sits on the boundary line between their properties. New York state law does not actually say much about these division fences, except in the context of more rural residents such as farmers and ranchers. In that context, neighbors must "make and maintain a just and equitable portion" of the fence, and an owner who does construct or repair a division fence can recover up to 20 percent of the proportionate cost from their neighbor. However, if you don't keep animals on your land within five years of the construction or repair of the fence, you're not responsible for it. Fence disputes between landowners are to be resolved by town "fence viewers."

You can also sue your neighbor for private nuisance if they build a "spite fence" on their property. In New York, a spite fence is one that exceeds 10 feet high and was built to block your enjoyment of light or air. However, it can be difficult to prove your neighbor's intentions, so you should also check with your city, neighborhood association, and relevant covenants, conditions, and restrictions for local rules regarding fence height, materials, and aesthetics.

New York Property Lines and Tree Trimming Laws

Another area of concern among homeowners is tree trimming. While you can trim the branches of a tree that extend onto your property, you may not trespass on your neighbor's property or cause damage to or kill the tree. If you do damage the tree, your neighbor can sue you for triple the stumpage value of the tree.

New York Property Line and Fence Laws at a Glance

The chart below provides a summary of state laws related to fence laws in New York, including links to important code sections.

Statutes

Boundary Fences

  • Adjoining landowners must make and maintain a just and equitable portion of division fence unless both agree to let lands lie open
  • Owner who does not keep animals on land within five years of construction or repair of division fence not obligated or liable for division fence
  • Disputes to be resolved by town fence viewers
  • Must repair fence destroyed by flood or other casualty within 10 days of receiving request to repair

Spite Fences

  • Owner or lessee who erects fence or fence-like structure exceeding 10 feet in height in order to exclude neighbor from enjoyment of light or air may be sued for private nuisance

Tree Trimming

  • May trim branches extending onto your property but may not cut down or damage tree on neighbor's land

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Property Line and Fence Laws in New York: Related Resources

Have an Attorney Help You with Your New York Fence Law Issues

To maintain an amicable relationship with your neighbors, you should always try to resolve these property questions through courteous communication. However, if your neighbor refuses to trim their hazardous tree, you have serious concerns about the maintenance of a division fence, or any other neighborly dispute, you may need professional legal help. Find a New York real estate attorney near you to learn more.

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